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“It’s not how hard you fall – it’s how quickly you get back up.”
Building on the success of the original film strategy led by hits Love Under New Management: The Miki Howard Story and its 2015 American Black Film Festival screenplay competition winner Bad Dad Rehab, TV One steps into the sports arena with its latest original film, Ringside.
The movie stars Tyler Lepley (The Haves and the Have Nots, Baggage Claim) as undefeated boxer Jaxon Holley, a fast-rising star in the tough world of professional boxing whose “street cred” and perceived worthiness to challenge his upcoming opponent – the current champion – are under fire due to his middle class upbringing and advanced education. As he trains for the title fight, the trash-talking, steroid-taking champ Spencer “Timber” Collier played by Allen Maldonado (Straight Outta Compton, Black-ish) does everything he can to take Jaxon off his game.
The stakes are high and family drama, thirsty groupies, and a manager with a serious gambling problem are all vying for Jaxon’s attention, making it difficult for him to stay focused on the task at hand – winning the belt. In the midst of being pushed to the limit both physically and mentally, Jaxon meets a beautiful photographer (Raney Branch; The Originals, Grey’s Anatomy) who captures his heart while hiding a devastating secret. Jaxon’s fight is not just inside the ring, but outside the ring to stay on track.
“I love portraying complex characters, and Jaxon definitely fits into that category,” said Lepley . “On the surface, he fits the mold of the stereotypical braggadocios boxer, but that’s simply a persona. In reality, he’s a hardworking, highly educated man who cares about nothing more than providing for his family and friends. Bringing him to life onscreen pushed me as an actor in the best of ways.”
In addition to Tyler Lepley, Allen Maldonado, and Raney Branch, Ringside also stars Jackie Long (Real Husbands of Hollywood, ATL), Atlantic Records Recording Artist Sevyn Streeter, and Tequan Richmond.
The film is written, produced and directed by nationally syndicated radio host Russ Parr (Hear No Evil, The Undershepherd, 35 and Ticking). He’s ready to deliver something exciting to viewers.
“Ringside is about a boxer, but it’s not a boxing movie, per se,” said director Russ Parr.”We all face battles at different points in life, and that’s what Ringside is about – the battles we have to face even when we don’t feel like fighting.”
I had the opportunity to speak with Russ more about the film. Read below on what his film writing and development process, and his expectations for the film’s premiere.
MELISASource: Ringside is an original, made for television movie. There’s a lot of drama, a lot of action, it’s beautifully written and shot. Russ, can you give us a little bit more of an overview about the film and why it was so important for you at this time to create this kind of story?
Russ Parr: Well, I thought that this film was gonna be something different. We’re so used to the typical romantic comedies, and I wanted to do something that’s a little bit more heavy-handed dramatic with a little sprinkling of comedy. And I thought the boxing world hasn’t really been touched, because I think a lot of people, they don’t understand the culture behind following the boxing world, ala Floyd Mayweather. If you ever go to one of Floyd Mayweather’s fights, you see every cross section of America at those fights, from young hip-hoppers to older men, all demographics. And I wanted to create a story where it wasn’t somebody like a Floyd Mayweather, just somebody opposite of Floyd, and try to humanize this sport, but yet, still show the darkness and the cut-throat business that it really is behind the scenes.
I really wanted to bring a story that I thought I could touch on so many different levels. Deal with issues such as gambling addiction, deal with the loss of parents, being raised by a man-child. There’s a number of story lines running throughout this script. ‘Cause when TV One came to me they wanted to do something like an entourage kind of film, and I just said, “Hey, let’s do boxing.” And we ran with it. So, I’m really excited about this project, not because I wrote it and directed, but I just think it’s a good film.
MLS: What was your inspiration to tell this story about the intensity of the life of the pro boxer and the impact on his family?
RP: Well, I just thought that it’s just so easy, the typical rags-to-riches stories with boxers is like, “Yes, I’ve been fighting in the mean streets all my life and I come from a broken home and this and that,” and I’d really thought I could… ‘Cause I don’t like to do things that are socially normal, I like to try to do something with a twist because not everybody’s life is like sugar drops and rainbows. And I wanted to bring a darker side to a dark sport, but from a human level. And I really wanted to make the Jaxon character, he has a Master’s degree in clinical psychology. You wouldn’t think somebody with a Master’s degree would be a professional boxer. So that goes against the norms and with all these characters and trying to give them just an issue, not over the top, because I hate when you overload characters with too many issues, just enough to wet your appetite so you care a little bit about them later on in the second act.
I think the big thing, for me, is that I’m a big boxing fan, big Muhammad Ali fan. I remember the first Floyd Mayweather fight I went to, I was just blown away. I was just blown away from all the beautiful women and all the boxers and being behind the scenes, and it’s just a brutal sport. And it just reminds you of the days back in Ben Hur days, where you get into the big pit and these people are fighting, but you don’t know all the circumstances as to why they fight and who they are. So to be able to bring that to the screen with these characters, it was just fun. I wrote this script, only took me a couple of weeks to write it, because I was so enthused with it. It was like, you’re watching your movie while you’re writing it, and that’s what I was doing. And it was like people just kept showing up, characters kept showing up, and that’s the fun part. It’s very therapeutic for me.
MLS: Did you interject any of your own personal characteristics, relationships, experiences into the characters, and which character most resembles who?
RP: That’s a really great question, because in almost everything that I write, I interject a lot of my personal beliefs and my personal emotions, ’cause a lot of people are often like, “Men can’t write for women,” and I write for women all the time because I think I was… My mom passed when I was 16 years old, and I used to hide around the corner and listen to my mom talk to my big sister about life, and what to expect from a man and how you should carry yourself and it resonated with me. It was so easy for me to write as a woman. A lot of people think that, “Okay, you’re on the radio, you’ve got this big personality,” but I’m really kind of shy and a little dark at times. I’m a half-empty-glass guy, which is really what you don’t wanna be in this business.
I can run down every character that I’ve ever written and every movie and there’s a little bit of me in everything. I was a rapper at one time. I boxed when I was a kid, I remember getting hit in the nose and my trainer telling me, “Hey, you’ll get used to it,” and I never did. [chuckle] I’ve been a recording artist, every character in there I’ve been in this particular movie and in pretty much in all my movies there’s me in there. Not all of me, obviously, I can’t go all the way there, but just bits and pieces. You have to write from your own personal experience and your emotions.
MLS: So Russ, as being a director, producer, and a writer, what would you like for the audience, the viewers to take away from Ringside?
RP: I would like for them to take away… There’s a couple of things actually. That life is spontaneous and nothing is guaranteed, and everything that glitters isn’t gold. And those were my main points and my objectives when I started writing. I didn’t really tie it up so everybody can go, “Well, there’s some redemption in here.” I just wanted to show that people have problems in their lives. And it’s not easy to overcome. But for the most part, it really is those three things that I pointed out, and that that’s not what life is all about.
I don’t wanna be a Debbie Downer, but at the same time, if this goes to series, like we hope it does or if there’s a sequel or whatever, I’ll be able to tie everything up and make it a little bit more dramatic and audiences see the redemption that they really want.
MLS: Any final thoughts?
RP: I really think Ringside is something that everybody is going to enjoy. Obviously on the surface it’s definitely about boxing, what boxers have to go through, what the families have to go through, some of the dark and gritty sides of it, but really there are so many underlying stories that any human can really connect to.
I think, even if you’re not a boxer, or even if you’re not a sports fan, obviously if you are you will enjoy it, but even for the people that aren’t boxing fans or sports fans, there’s something that you’ll be able to empathize with. If not from one of the many circumstances of the main character, you might recognize it from a different character or even the extra that’s over in the gambling house. There’s certain aspects of life that are scattered throughout it. And I think that whether your boxing fans or not, you’ll really be able to empathize with it and enjoy it.
Ringside premieres on TV One on Sunday, Sept. 4 at 7 p.m. ET with an immediate encore at 9 p.m. ET. There will also be an additional airing on Sunday, Sept. 11 at 5 p.m. ET. You can also connect with the film on Facebook and Twitter, and join the conversation using the hashtag #Ringside.